Countless studies show that those who work alone are at higher risk of feeling isolated from their employer and colleagues.
Anyone who has ever been a lone worker, freelanced, or regularly worked from home can identify with the feeling of isolation it brings. It can be easy to go from breakfast to dinner without speaking out loud to another soul, and this can be lonely.
But it is not only lonely, it can be bad for our mental health. Humans are pack animals. We are designed to interact, communicate, and verbalise our feelings. We laugh, rant, chat, theorise, learn, and share naturally.
It’s the reason why we have so many verbal and non-verbal ways of communication. So, working alone is almost unnatural for us, and this can cause depression.
It is important to remember that being a lone worker doesn’t always mean being alone. A lone worker can speak to service users and clients all day long. But this isn’t the same as company.
Lone Working and Lonely
Working on your own can seem like a great idea if your colleagues are less than desirable (admit it, we all have some colleagues we could live without) but doing it day in, day out can get lonely.
According to an article in HR Magazine, working alone is a contributing factor to poor mental health. Of the 1,200 workers surveyed, nearly half (42%) said their job played a significant role in their poor mental health.
Of those people, 17.8% said that working alone was a major contributory factor to poor mental health.
Like we have discussed in this blog here, lone workers are more likely to be assaulted, and are more vulnerable to injuries, illness, slips, falls, and aggression.
But working alone also means colleagues are often isolated from their peers and may miss some of the more enjoyable sides of being in a team-laughter, support, sharing concerns, and receiving encouragement. And we have all heard the old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, something lone workers logistically find it more difficult to do.
If you have staff who work in isolation, there are some easy steps at the bottom you can take to stop them feeling so alone.
Lone Working But Not Alone
In the study in HR Magazine mentioned above, 17% of those who reported work as a major contributory factor to their mental wellbeing said dealing with clients or customers also damaged their mental health. Which means that for those working alone directly with service users, such as district nurses, or those working alone with customers, such as petrol station attendants, they are likely to experience mental health issues.
Most sectors have some clients or service users who can sometimes be challenging or frustrating, but some sectors have customers who are volatile, can be objectionable, and have the potential to be dangerous. Dealing with these types of clients alone can lead to higher stress levels, which can cause depression and anxiety.
Tips for Dealing with Lone Worker Depression
There has been a huge shift in the last decade towards employees taking responsibility for the mental health of their staff, and rightly so. There may already be mechanisms and policies at work that you can encourage your team to take advantage of. It is worth checking with HR to see what already exists.
But you can implement some or all of these easy tips below to help your lone workers feel more supported.
1) Limit the time they are lone working for
Consider reworking the rota so that staff are regularly spending more time in the office, catching up on paperwork, planning, or engaging in training.
2) Protect their office time
It is so easy to put the needs of the business above the needs of the staff. And that is understandable. But you have invested in the staff, trained them, trust them, and have a duty of care to them.
It is also understandable that staff who manage their own diaries are booking themselves out all the time to try and get through more work and do a good job.
But office time if important. So, if you can, don’t let anyone override the office time with appointments or meetings.
3) Be in contact
Have regular calls or skypes with your staff. The end of every day is a good start to ensure they can offload or discuss any concerns they have. Make the calls informal and light so it doesn’t feel oppressive or like you are checking up on them.
Daily phone calls should form part of your lone worker policy anyway.
4) Set up a counselling hotline
Some employers offer an independent counselling hotline to staff. Consider approaching HR to see if this is feasible. It is likely to reduce absence in the long run.
Get In Touch
The team at First2HelpYou have been supporting lone workers for a combined 35 years and we are always happy to have a chat or advise.